How Can You Tell if Someone is Sorry – For Real?
Are you at a stalemate in a relationship?
Do you try and try and try to talk it out with the other person, only to have them minimize, dismiss, and ignore your concerns?
Do they turn the tables on you and blame you for the problem?
Does this happen every single time you bring up an issue?
For as long as you’ve been in a relationship with them?
Then it may be time to set a boundary and do some detaching until four things have taken place.
There are four steps to reconciliation, according to Christian counselor, Patrick Doyle. We talked about the first step, conviction, in the article To Forgive Doesn’t Automatically Mean To Reconcile.
The offender needs to be convicted by the Holy Spirit that what he/she is doing is wrong. We can’t convict another person; it has to come directly from God, or it’s not real. Without this God-given conviction, the process cannot move forward.
Today we’ll look at the next step:
2. If someone is really sorry, they will repent.
Repentance is sincere regret and remorse over a wrong done. A person who is truly repentant is broken and contrite (Psalm 51:17). They have experienced a genuine conviction from God, Himself, and repentance is what naturally follows.
You can tell if someone is repentant by their actions. Just saying, “Dude, I’m SORRY, man” is a nice-sounding sentence, but it isn’t evidence of repentance.
A repentant person will name their sin, specifically, and they will be broken up about it. If the person is sorry just because you called them out or because you are implementing a boundary, that’s not real repentance. That’s “worldly sorrow” (II Cor. 7:10). They are sorry for themselves. Not sorry for the damage they’ve caused in the people around them.
A repentant person will not make excuses, blame you or something else, rationalize their behavior, or justify what they did. If a person is doing any of those things, they are not repentant. Period. Back to square one—waiting for God to convict them.
A repentant person is eager to make things right. They are patient with the person they have harmed, recognizing the pain they’ve caused and giving them time and space to heal. They seek help with whatever issues or addictions they have that may be contributing to the abusive behavior.
They don’t do these things because someone told them they should. They don’t do these things because someone told them if they didn’t, they’d lose their family. They don’t need to have someone hold their hand, like a three-year-old, and walk them through the process.
Real repentance comes from the heart because it flows from an authentic relationship with Christ and is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Patrick Doyle points out that churches often gloss over this part of the process, especially when it comes to marriages.
I’ve seen this scenario played out first hand in my own life, and I’ve heard numerous stories with the same plotline. (Satan isn’t very creative.)
Saving the marriage is the top priority. Gotta keep those divorce stats down. Who cares about the people involved. And unfortunately, “saving the marriage” means different things to different people. In most cases, it just means keeping the couple married in the same house until one of them dies. That’s a “win” in their mind.
I don’t think God views it that way. God doesn’t just look at the cute Christmas card and say, “LOVE. IT.” God sees right into the hell of a home. He’s looking at hearts. He knows the vows were broken a long time ago. The marriage is not reflecting Christ and the church; it’s making a mockery of it. That’s reality.
That’s the truth behind the mask.
When we acknowledge the truth, we can take steps to deal with it. Covering up, pretending, and ignoring is not loving. Lies don’t honor God, no matter how pretty they are. What they do is give the offending partner a free pass to not only continue to harm others but ramp it up if they want to. And they often do.
Is this what God wants? A destructive person that continues to destroy – a victim that continues to be victimized – and a church that continues to turn the other way because it is uncomfortable?
A person who is truly repentant accepts whatever consequences there are without putting up a whiny stink. They are humble and sorrowful for their victim – not fighting for their right to have a clean slate, a full belly, and a warm bed.
A person who is truly repentant doesn’t ridicule the victim for his/her pain, try to guilt them into “forgiving and forgetting,” spin Scripture verses to exert control (spiritual abuse), point out the victim’s “equal sin” (this is sin leveling and minimizing), or have any other expectations on the victim.
“Repenting” and then expecting things in return is a thing. It’s called manipulation.
Repentant people don’t try to turn others against the victim and garner sympathy for themselves. They don’t do this in obvious ways, and they don’t do this in covert ways. Their heart is with their victim, and they only seek the well-being of the one they hurt. They are honest and come clean.
A repentant person is willing for the victim to go back and revisit past hurts. They understand that if there are many incidents that have been swept under the rug, the solution is not to keep them there.
The solution is to take them out, piece by piece, examine them, repent of them, and find healing and forgiveness. They won’t say things like, “C’mon, Babe, those are things of the past. I said I was sorry. Let’s not dredge everything up. It’s better to move on.”
That is not the attitude of someone who loves and cares and desires reconciliation.
I’m trying to spell this out in as many ways as possible because women in abusive relationships often feel confused in this area. They want so badly to believe their partner is sorry for real and wants to change. WILL change. They often take whatever bones the offending partner throws in their direction in a false hope that this is the turning point in the relationship, and things will get better here on out.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and I think we need to be aware of that and not get our hopes set on something that may never happen. It’s another way we can avoid the pain of acknowledging reality—and stay stuck. We need to be clear—very, very clear—on what to look for, specifically, to know for sure the offending party is truly repentant.
George Simon put it well:
The word contrition comes from the Latin contritus (the same root for the word contrite), and literally means “crushed to pieces.” The contrite person has had their once haughty and prideful ego completely crushed under the tremendous weight of guilt and shame. Such a person has “hit bottom” (as 12-step program adherents are wont to say) not only because they can no longer bear the thought of how badly their actions hurt others but also because of their deep realization of how their usual way of doing things has resulted in abject personal failure. That’s why the contrite person is first and foremost a broken person. And, by definition, only by acknowledging personal defeat can a person become potentially open to reconstructing their life on very different terms. It’s been said many times, but it’s profoundly psychologically true. One cannot begin a new life without laying to rest one’s old self.
…Contrition is that very rare but absolutely essential feature of changing one’s life for the better. It requires a true metanoia or “change of heart.” And even more importantly, it requires work – a lot of very hard, humble, committed work. Reforming one’s character is the most challenging of human enterprises. You have to put a lot of energy into doing it, and you have to feel a deep sense of obligation about doing it in order to maintain the energy to get the job done. And contrition wears a very distinctive face. Truly contrite people behave very differently, even from regretful and remorseful people. And when you know what to look for, you can readily tell the difference.
Other related articles that will fill this out for you even further include:
Here’s what John the Baptist said to the Holy, Law-Abiding, Religious People of his day:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Oi, he got in trouble for that. They thought he was a slanderous, angry ol’ prophet, and they chopped off his head.
Sort of like what happens today.
The next step is here: Rushing Reconciliation is Rarely Rewarding.
P.S. There’s a support network of women of faith who know exactly how confusing it is to live this journey and wonder the very same questions about true repentance versus worldly sorrow. Learn more about the Flying Free Sisterhood!